"What are you looking for in your books? Is it ever permitted that this reading end?"
Books I got something out of. Recurring themes: excellence, agency, and learning, awareness and clarity of mind, human nature, biography, and narrative and persuasion.
Select book notes
Select books I’ve read multiple times:
- Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa (4x)
- Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunetomo
- The Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson – What does it take to become the best? What does it feel like to lose everything? What is it to be totally honest with yourself, holding nothing back?
- Rising Strong by Brene Brown
- The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling
- Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene
- Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
- Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
Agency and learning
- Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa
- Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunetomo
- Seeking Wisdom by Peter Bevelin - effective decision making reference, esp. the lists of questions in the index
- Poor Charlie’s Almanack
- The Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson
- Striking Thoughts by Bruce Lee
"A gung fu man employs his mind as a mirror – it grasps nothing and it refuses nothing."
- Lee Kwan Yew (Interviews and Selections by Graham Allison) – to do what works, unconcerned with theories. Munger recommendation.
"Anybody who thinks he is a statesman needs to see a psychiatrist"
- Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston - Interviews with great founders. I had a ton of highlights, but especially recommend the Max Levchin one.
- Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance - a meditation on developing personal agency
- Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink, Leif Babin
- The Laws of Lifetime Growth by Dan Sullivan, Catherine Nomura - excellent ideas
- Skin in the Game by Nassim Taleb – The section ‘First Break’ in this commencement speech Taleb gave is a concise version of my single biggest takeaway from my first read of Skin in the Game.
- A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley
- The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin
- Peak by Anders Ericsson
- The Shape of Design by Frank Chimero – great actionable steps for the creative process. S/o Léo for the rec
- The Practicing Mind by Thomas M. Sterner - excellent
- Mastery by Robert Greene. Interesting frameworks, asks great questions. Protip: there’s a companion volume with his research interviews with folks including Paul Graham. Recommend reading for concrete examples of ideas from the book.
- The Double Helix by James D. Watson – I had a ton of highlights re: the creative process of invention and discovery.
- The Start-up of You by Reid Hoffman - totally underrated
- The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss
- Essentialism by Greg McKeown
- Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker
- The First 20 Hours by Josh Kaufman
- Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss
- The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi – Notes from the greatest swordsman to ever live.
It is not difficult to wield a sword in one hand; the Way to learn this is to train with two long swords, one in each hand. It will seem difficult at first, but everything is difficult at first.
- How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams
- Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy by Judd Apatow – I wish this had been a long form podcast.
- Anything You Want by Derek Sivers
- Masters of Doom by David Kushner
- Become a Straight A Student by Cal Newport – lol
Awareness and clarity
- Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
- As One Is by Krishnamurti
- On Fear by Krishnamurti
- Freedom from the Known by Krishnamurti
- The Book of Life by Krishnamurti
- Awareness by Anthony De Mello
- Living Dhamma by Ajahn Chah
- Meditation by Ajahn Chah
- Atmamun by Kapil Gupta
“Understand that you have a finite number of breaths left in your lungs. And with each passing one, you come closer to death.”
- Flight of the Garuda
- Tao Te Ching
- Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
- The Trauma of Everyday Life by Mark Epstein – fundamental concept communicated in a short phrase: “conceptual appreciation to experiential understanding.”
- Waking Up by Sam Harris
- The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh – short, very relatable and easy to read, all of which make it a great starting point
- A Path with Heart by Jack Kornfield
- The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chodron
- The Diamond that Cuts Through Illusion (sutra, Thich Nhat Hanh commentary)
- Blazing Splendor by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche
- 10% Happier by Dan Harris
- What Makes You Not A Buddhist by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse – Uncompromising, clear writing on Buddhism and Buddhist psychology. “All emotions are pain.”
- Vivid Awareness: The Mind Instructions of Khenpo Gangshar by Khenchen Thrangu
- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
- Letters from a Stoic by Seneca – Great.
- Enchiridion by Epictetus – excellent. Very short.
- Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart by Gordon Livingston
- The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk
- Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday – Brilliant.
- One Last Talk by Philip McKernan - still reading
- Rising Strong by Brene Brown – brilliant.
- Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown
- Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
- Under Saturn’s Shadow by James Hollis
- Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It by Kamal Ravikant
- Emotional Agility by Susan David
- Lying by Sam Harris
- Live Your Truth by Kamal Ravikant – corny title, great read.
- Zero to One by Peter Thiel – part of what makes this book so great is how hard it is to definitively match it to any one of these categories. The ideas are impeccably distilled and compressed.
- The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling
- Troubled Blood by J.K. Rowling
- First Man in Rome, The Grass Crown, Fortune’s Favorites, Caesar’s Women, Caesar by Colleen McCullough. Historical fiction about the leaders who vied for power in Ancient Rome as the republic crumbled (or ascended) into the empire. Very insightful on politics and psychology.
“Wisdom was not a quality he associated with any Roman nobleman; Roman noblemen were too political in their thinking to be wise. Everything was of the moment, seen in the short term. Even Scaurus Princeps Senatus, for all his experience and his vast auctoritas, had not been wise. Any more than had the Piglet’s own father, Metellus Numidicus. Brave. Fearless. Determined. Unyielding of principle. But never wise.”
- The Lessons of History by Will Durant, Ariel Durant – my fellow Canadian put it better than me (Farnam St / Shane).
- Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene – Great.
- Lethal White by J. K. Rowling – Few books (that I’ve read so far) capture the human capacity for self-deception like this one. The discursive thought, the self-obsession, the self-sabotage – that lead to second hand lives. Why I like this book & love The Casual Vacancy – it’s raw, unbleached, unvarnished. The books are mirrors, and echo the cracking of ego that Mike Tyson’s autobiography captures so well.
- What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg – This is a great book. A meditation on youth, ambition, and the self absorption that tends to complete the triad. Both Sammy and Julian were broken. Good illustration of concepts from Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday.
- The Neon Bible by John Kennedy Toole – he wrote this when he was 16
- A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean – I read it to improve my own writing. An author I respect said this book taught him about economy of writing. Well written and poignant, though I skimmed parts.
“One reason Paul caught more fish than anyone else was that he had his flies in the water more than anyone else. “Brother,” he would say, “there are no flying fish in Montana. Out here, you can’t catch fish with your flies in the air.”
- Dune by Frank Herbert
- Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
- A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole – We are all Ignatius J. Reilly. Loved this one for the writing and apparent absurdity. Most of us carry on internal monologues just as ridiculous as the one Ignatius vocalizes, just that ours fit the tribe’s prescriptions, but they advance us as much as Reilly’s did him on our deepest goals.
- Fallen Leaves by Will Durant – the chapter on growing old was especially great. I skipped the rest.
- Tribe by Sebastian Junger
- The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse
- The Velvet Rage by Alan Downs
- The Bed of Procrustes by Nassim Taleb
- Maxims by Francois de la Rochefoucauld
- Conspiracy by Ryan Holiday
- Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson
- Conspiracy of Fools by Kurt Eichenwald – narrative of the Enron scandal. A Munger recommendation.
- The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt
- Elephant in the Brain by Robin Hanson, Kevin Simler
- Wild Life: Adventures of an Evolutionary Biologist by Robert Trivers
- The Truth by Neil Strauss
- Why We Love by Helen Fisher – Drives >> emotions was huge, citing Kanazawa was interesting. Maybe could read a summary though, or paper abstracts.
Biography and memoir
- Andrew Carnegie by Joseph Frazier Wall - love this biography, still reading it.
- Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford
- Not Fade Away by Peter Barton – absolutely amazing. Spent a flight reading this instead of prepping for an interview. This and When Breath Becomes Air pose similar questions, but this one’s answers overlapped better with my own where When Breath missed.
- Mortality by Christopher Hitchens – Hitchens on dying, as he died. Great writing, great anecdote on how he learned to write like he spoke. Ends with the notes for articles he died before finishing – giving further insight into his writing process.
- Gratitude by Oliver Sacks - reflection on life as he died
- When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
- I Got There by JT McCormick - See chapter 4: when there is no “try”, all that’s left is “do”.
- Swimming Across by Andy Grove. Memoir of an incredibly determined and accomplished person who endured incredible hardship. Wow.
- Damn Right by Janet Lowe – Munger bio, worth reading
- Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero by James Romm – I thought the other Seneca bio (Emily Wilson’s) got to the point quicker, but I’m glad I read this too. Learning about the man’s life makes his writing so much more potent. The hypocrisies, the compromises, where he was uncertain – that he struggled as we do. Ex. setting out on the cursus honorum (literally, “course of honour” - by some lights, doublespeak – makes me think of the “rat race”), maybe for status reasons or because it was how the culture defined advancement, its canal for ambition. Recalls Thiel: “I look back on my younger self [and] I was insanely tracked, insanely competitive.” This lesson alone makes the book worth its weight in gold: we can peel back thousands of years and see the cultural narrative of success led to dancing for one’s life at the whims of others (ex. Nero). Dancing with what might have been his will to power or influence burned him, because he’d been playing the wrong game for too long. Back to ourselves, examining what tracked success we ourselves are chasing, now with perspective. He faced the same specific choices & challenges as ours, and we can make wiser specific choices - ex. what next job or project we take, and understand what the consequences might look like by seeing a version of the feedback loop played out in his life.
It’s that practical. That he wrote The Moral Letters at the end of his life, after decades of honing his skill as a writer, and his will to truth as well. That when he finally tried to escape Nero, it was already too late. Rumi’s line comes to mind: ‘Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.’
- The Man Who Solved the Market – book about Jim Simons.
- House of Morgan by Ron Chernow – The paramount value of trust in finance and business. Drove home Naval’s point about Warren Buffett and credibility.
- Chaos Monkeys by Antonio García Martinez
- A Man for All Markets by Ed Thorpe
- Models of My Life - Herbert Spencer
- Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
- Rome’s Last Citizen – Great. Bio of Cato. Well written (sentence/mechanical level and story-telling level); complex understanding of characters/personalities; deeply enjoyed the broader themes and morals. I should post my notes.
- Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
- My Fellow Prisoners by Mikhail Khodorkovsky
- Pimp by Iceberg Slim – The real wins in life come from long term games that compound your ability and intelligence. Short term games? Legal or not, respectable or not, high status or not, the result: “slick but not smart.”
“I had spent more than half a lifetime in a worthless, dangerous profession. If I had stayed in school, in eight years of study I could have been an M.D. or lawyer. Now here I was, slick but not smart, in a cell.”
- The Fish that Ate the Whale by Rich Cohen
- The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy by David Nasaw
- My Own Country by Abraham Verghese
- Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
- I Can’t Make This Up by Kevin Hart – What does it take, day in and day out, to do great work?
- Father Fiction by Donald Miller
- The New New Thing by Michael Lewis
Narrative and persuasion
- Three Uses of the Knife by David Mamet – good storytelling primer
- Story Structure Architect by Victoria Schmidt
- All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin
- Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss
Applied incentives and economics
- Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got by Jay Abraham – Faster to watch this video of him coaching. Digs into fundamental business primitives, applicable regardless of scale – ex. “Does $group actually want this?” Jay Abraham yields a fundamental for distribution – “Who owns the relationship?” with the audience you’re trying to reach. Great on risk reversal in selling and his idea of pre-eminence as well. Worth reading.
- The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu – Should have been 1-4 great blog posts.
- Average is Over by Tyler Cowen
- The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker – Chapter 5 on “Arcs of Coherence” – is great on how to order and connect your ideas and structure writing, from the sentence level to the chapter level.
- The Defining Decade by Meg Jay – Great. s/o to Richard for sharing
- Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham – exceptionally clear thinking. Of all people, Thiel’s writing has a similar quality: simplicity, a feature of clear thinking.
- The Invisibility Cloak by Ge Fei – His Paris Review interview was interesting. Standout themes: status envy, passion for craft.
- Mathematics ed. by A. D. Aleksandrov, A. N. Kolmogorov, M. A. Lavrent’ev – really like this one
- Fragments by Heraclitus
- Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson – a possible future
- Quarantine by Greg Egan
- Once Upon A Time in Russia by Ben Mezrich
- Money by Martin Amis – The man can write.
- Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama